Monday, May 8, 2017

I Don't Live As If Death Is Final

I was recently rereading the preface of the updated edition of Hitch-22, the memoir of the late Christopher Hitchens, whose diagnosis of esophageal cancer just a few months after the book's release would kill him a little over a year later. Having just learned of his diagnosis, and not knowing whether he'd celebrate another birthday, Hitchens is writing— beautifully as always — with the prospect of death staring at him in the face, and one sentence stood out on the original read that I had to read again.

If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or making of it. 

It struck me, given his insight induced by his condition, that although my naturalistic philosophy entails death is final, and that our loved ones never return to us in any way once they're gone, I certainly don't seem to be living as if that's the case. I seem to be living as if I'm going to be reunited with all my loved ones after they die, as if the amount of time I'm going to be able to spend with them is infinite.

I was recently on the phone with my mother and she told me, as many mothers do, that I don't call her enough. And it's true. I barely call my mother. I can go months without a peep. And it's not the case that I hate her; I love my mother and we have a decent relationship, so it's not like I'm trying to avoid her. It's just, you know, when we get older and move away and our parents are not in our lives and they get a little annoying with their neurotic concerns about us, there's the tendency to avoid them.

But we're acutely aware of our own mortality, and that of the others around us. And we know that if we live long enough, we will see our parents die. And then they will be gone forever. And while I know that's true, I don't seem to be living as if that's true. I don't seem all that concerned of the prospects that I will one day lose both my parents and never see them or hear from them ever again.

I've been wondering lately what that's going to be like. I feel like I might be purposely distancing myself from my parents to be less emotionally reliant on them, as an attempt to make their eventual deaths less burdensome. But is that logical? Am I missing out on worthwhile interaction with my family that I will never have when they die? Will I strongly regret this missed interaction with them when they die? I really don't know. But Hitch's advice would prescribe a visitation. And I'm sure his motivation was very real to him when he wrote it.

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